December is shaping up to be quite the month for the 2021-22 Texas Tech basketball team. The Red Raiders will kick off the December by traveling far from home to take on the Providence Friars in Providence as part of the Big XII/Big East Challenge. On December 18 Tech will tackle preseason national title favorite Gonzaga in Phoenix in the Jerry Colangelo Classic. And in between those two tough opponents, the Red Raiders will face the Tennessee Volunteers in the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden on December 7. The Vols will surely be one of the favorites to take the SEC title this year.
Based upon the games with Gonzaga and Tennessee, three things are becoming apparent.
First, Texas Tech is still a name brand in college basketball despite Chris Beard’s defection to the University of Texas. Ten years ago, Texas Tech wouldn’t have been able to swing games of this stature. They are now a matter of course.
Second, although Mark Adams may be a complete unknown to the national media, he is greatly respected in the coaching ranks. There can be no doubt that the esteem in which he is held by Mark Few and Rick Barnes played no small role in the Gonzaga and Tennessee games coming to fruition.
And third, Adams fully intends to keep the Texas Tech program at the center of the national radar. Games against Gonzaga, and against Tennessee in New York will be closely watched by everybody who is serious about college hoops.
Now, while Texas Tech’s schedule is still in embryo, it seems likely that Adams is more concerned with maintaining the program’s national prominence than he is worried about playing a tough schedule. If so, this could be good news for Texas Tech basketball fans. Under Beard, the program’s home slates were lackluster, to put it mildly. Perhaps, just perhaps, Adams will manage to entice a few more reputable teams to the friendly confines of the USA at the expense of the Sunbelt and Southland creampuffs Tech feasted upon under Beard.
As for Tennessee, the Volunteers may not quite be on the level of the Zags, but they’ll be plenty potent all the same. The Tennessee program has generally been stout in the regular season, but something of a postseason tin man. They’ve reached the NCAA tournament 22 times, all of those occurring from 1967 on, but have never reached the Final Four. Their best season was 2010 in which the Vols reached the Elite Eight. Texas Tech and Tennessee have squared off only once, with the Red Raiders taking an 88-71 decision in Knoxville on December 3, 1953.
Rick Barnes’ Tennessee clubs have never lacked for talent, and they certainly won’t this year either. Two players from last year’s squad, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, will go high in the upcoming NBA draft, but those are the only major losses. Tennessee welcomes back five players who started double-digit games last season, and will add a recruiting class that is ranked No. 3 nationally by 247. This group includes four players ranked in the nation’s top 60, not to mention Justin Powell, a skilled catch-and-shoot guy with a nice midrange game who’s transferring from Auburn.
The clash between Tennessee and Texas Tech will feature two very different teams. Tennessee will be big up front with Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Jonas Aidoo, and John Fulkerson all going at least 6-foot-9, 215. What’s more Yves Pons, one of the best and most physical defenders in the nation, plays much larger than his 6-foot-6, 215 frame would suggest. Tennessee will also feature two true point guards in veteran Santiago Vescovi and freshman Kennedy Chandler, the top point guard prospect coming from the prep ranks.
Texas Tech, on the other hand, will be a team of middles. Mark Adams will try to make his mark with a battalion of 6-foot-6 swingmen and wings. The game should be an interesting battle of styles, although the two teams will have one very important thing in common—they will guard you.